Explorer exploring explorers

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As one of the greatest explorers of his generation. Robin Hanbury-Tenison is well placed to assess the key explorers from our past.

He does so in his latest book The Great Explorers which he will discuss for the Chichester Festivities in the Old Kitchen, Bishop’s Palace, Chichester on Wednesday, July 6 at 6pm.

Just the word explorer conjures a schoolboyish excitement, as Robin concedes - but it’s a role which has changed.

“There is a difference between explorers and travellers. Travellers go and write books and see stuff. Explorers are the people that actually go the extra mile and change the world - either by filling in the blanks or making us more aware.”

Arguably there are fewer blanks to fill in these days - but that doesn’t mean that ours is necessarily a world we understand, and that’s where a key part of the explorer’s role lies.

Interestingly, we’re not necessarily talking household names. Robin doesn’t include Scott and Shackleton in the book, but rather Edward Wilson as the epitome of Antarctic explorers. a man who was artist, naturalist, scientist and doctor among his many accomplishments.

Robin, a celebrated author, conservationist, broadcaster, film-maker, campaigner and farmer, admits his own particular heroes tend to be the all-rounders, people like Alfred Russel Wallace and Baron Alexander von Humbolt: “I think Humbolt was the greatest of them all. He showed the way in studying everything at a time when it was still possible. His output was phenomenal.”

Inevitably, there’s a restlessness to many of these great characters; some perhaps are also reckless - something Robin has himself tended to avoid, for the simple reason that he would like to get back afterwards.

“There is a dichotomy. I will name no names, but you see the people on the television, and you can tell quite clearly the ones that are interested in what they are doing and what they are discovering as opposed to those that are just telling the world how incredibly tough and brave they are!”